The Practice Notebook

flutist Zara Lawler shares tips on learning music

Guerrilla Practicing: Dispatch from the Front


MISSION:  Prepare for solo recital

PERFORMANCE HORIZON:  Recital is in less than a week, but had to pause preparation for performance with River Oaks Chamber Orchestra

SITUATION: In transit all day, Houston to NYC, with a stop in Atlanta

DATE:  President’s Day

TIME:  08:15, an hour and a half before flight time

LOCATION:  Houston Airport

RECON:  Wandered the terminal for 15 minutes, looking for a prime guerilla practice location; located an empty gate

OUTCOME:  Acquired permission of the gate attendants and then practiced there immediately

WHAT:  physical warm ups, a few long tones, chromatic scales, Taffanel & Gaubert No. 4


  • calling it “guerrilla practicing” makes it feel dramatic, which is fun
  • great to get in my scales before sitting on an airplane for hours
  • great to feel like I’m doing everything I can to get ready for the recital


  • practicing in public inhibits my willingness to sound bad , so it’s not the most effective practicing I do
  • practicing in an airport has the added worry that people will think that I’m some sort of flute-playing-terrorist-spy (best not to tell them that it’s “guerrilla!”)

COLLATERAL PRACTICE:  mental practice and score study on the plane


  • college dorm laundry room
  • hotel pool rooms and conference rooms (for early morning practice—no guest rooms overhead; ask permission from the front desk first)
  • the tunnel under Barnard College
  • airports:  Detroit, El Paso, Laguardia
  • my grandparents’ basement


  • relative privacy
    • ideally, no one is around
    • if there are people there (like in an airport), look for a spot where people are passing through (like a passage between terminals), rather than sitting in one spot
    • not too much noise
    • not too hot or too cold


  • anything that you are generally already pretty good at (so you don’t have to worry too much about being willing to sound bad)

REQUEST FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:  Where have you guerrilla practiced?*

*NOTE Guerrilla practicing is not the same as vista practicing, in which you practice outdoors or in some beautiful vacation spot.  Vista practicing will be covered in a later dispatch.

posted under Techniques & Tricks
3 Comments to

“Guerrilla Practicing: Dispatch from the Front”

  1. On March 9th, 2010 at 9:54 pm Bonnie Whiting Smith Says:

    Recently, I had a performance at up at Stanford. I had an hour to do a solo part-improvised version of a graphic score. Anyway, one of my actions involved playing cards. . . and I am a terrible shuffler. My plane from SD to San Jose was totally delayed, so while we sat on the runway I spent 20 minutes practicing! I even wrote it in my notebook, and thought of you. And, let’s see, at Interlochen, during peak practice times, you could sometimes find me in the girl’s bathroom or the freight elevator with a vibraphone!

  2. On March 10th, 2010 at 12:48 am Slater Says:

    - airports in 4 different continents (5…if you count the Middle East)
    - my parents’ garage in Atlanta in the middle of July (not recommended)
    - a German bathhouse (get your mind out of the gutter! it was in Europe!!)
    - Tales & Scales office (around midnight)
    - bar in Boulder, CO (they called it “Talent Night”)

  3. On March 24th, 2010 at 10:17 am koen Says:

    under blankets in hotel rooms… trying not to disturb the piece and quiet of the other guests. It’s a tip I picked up from jazz players (mostly trumpet), as is the carrying of your instrument under your coat in winter.

Email will not be published

Website example

Your Comment: